Reading the Bible is a life-giving experience to the Christian. It is just as Peter declared “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Yet so often, even the hardiest of believers can feel beat up by the Bible.
The demands of God’s law can feel devastating. As we read the Scriptures we are constantly remained of the ways we still fall short of God’s righteous standard. This is only compounded as we consider the wrath of God towards sin (1 Sam. 4–6). Yet the Word is sill a source of joy for Christians. The believer can say “I delight in your statutes” (Ps. 119:16) and at the same time say Your Word has slain me, for it is sharper than any sword (Heb. 4:12, Is. 6:5). Jerry Bridges once called this “The Discomfort of the Justified Life.”
How should the Christian feast upon God’s law and not see it as a discouragement, a reminder of how far we still have to go in our sanctification? How can we find and maintain our joy?
As a counselor I often speak with Christians who struggle with tension and it’s a struggle I faced as well. But that began to change when I realized that God intends for us to find our primary joy not the progress of our sanctification, but in the declaration of our justification.
We grow in sanctification gradually (2 Cor. 3:18). Sometimes this process is maddeningly slow (Rom. 7:24). Sometimes it is virtually imperceptible. That can be discouraging. We all want to know, how do we measure our progress? When do we get back our grades? But God’s intention is not that we focus our comfort on our subjective assessment of our progress, which itself can be a form of sinful inwardness, but instead to fix our eyes on Jesus who is both the author AND the perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2).
So yes, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”, but don’t be afraid, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure”(Phil. 2:13).